Women in Wartime: the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

Foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation. Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from other men. Hence the use of spies…”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Translated by Lionel Giles


During World War Two, in an effort to develop American espionage capabilities, President Roosevelt gave a directive to establish a single entity responsible for foreign intelligence and special operations. Formed as an agency under the Joints Chiefs of Staff, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) would undertake espionage and disinformation campaigns, partisan and guerilla activities, and commando operations.

As women were well-represented in civilian and military roles during the war, it is not surprising (though not widely known) that many women served in the OSS, and their stories are fascinating.

Readers can begin by exploring the CIA’s overview history of the OSS, followed by a more focused study regarding the role of women in the wartime agency. Stories about the women of the OSS and their contributions are entertaining and informative.

Genealogists will be elated to know that since 7 August 2008 more than 35,000 official personnel files of men and women who served in the OSS were made available through the National Archives. A few notable OSS personnel files have been digitized and are available for inspection. Record Group 226: Records of the Office of Strategic Services is the NARA catalog location, which enables the researcher to search within the file for OSS personnel records. Anyone needing help with this research may reach out to the Library's Genealogy and Local History Librarian, Tim Seman, Genealogy and Local History Librarian at tseman@libraryvisit.org, 330-744-8636 ext., 50095.

Of course, the Library offers several books regarding this unique example of women in wartime service. Also, explore the Library’s Online Resources for History & Culture.

Enjoy Women’s History Month!